Fragments of mortar and wood rained down upon Giles Newberry as he struggled through the rubble, handkerchief pressed to his mouth and nose. He looked about bleakly, blinking out the dust that threatened to get in his eyes as he searched for both Vincent Wexley, last seen by his front window mere moments before the earth-shattering explosion, and wishing he had a pair of the man's goggles. While Vincent looks positively idiotic in those things, they'd come in handy right about now.
With a pang, Giles realized he might well never be able to chide Wexley about his stupid inventions ever again.
A sputtering yelp and a crash off to Giles' right informed him that Reginald had found something. That the aristocratic sot had jumped right in without questioning had warmed Newberry's heart but a look to the white-faced Crothall made that self-same heart sink with fear.
Sure enough, buried under a tumble of brick and broken window frame, wound through with scorched and torn curtains, lay a gentleman's smoking jacket.
Giles did his best attempt at a leap through the fray, providing more avalanche than assistance as he made his way to Reginald's side.
By now gawkers were gathered out front—the two men could only partially see the crowd through the shattered remains of Vincent's front wall. They were waiting for a body count. Nobody moved to help.
Where are the police? Giles found himself peevishly wondering, conveniently forgetting that they were the police.
“Is he—? Do you think—?” Reginald's horror was unparalleled as he looked from Giles to the scrap of familiar clothing, the jacket that Vincent had come down the stairs wearing but moments before the world was blown to bits in his face.
“Help me shift it.” Giles made sure he didn't answer, didn't even think about Reginald's aborted questions. He added, as an afterthought, “Good work.”
Crothall nodded, rolling up shirtsleeves—though to what point? They were both encrusted with dust from the explosion—and sifting through the rubble as best he dared.
It was then that two individuals sprang forward from the crowd—a man and a woman—approaching what remained of Vincent's front steps with a speed that Giles found alarming. The inspector moved his hand instinctively to his sidearm, ready to dash off an imperious request that they back off.
Giles realized then who he was about to yell at.
Jane Temble spoke, “Orrie?”
A quick glance at the woman told Giles that her question was along the lines of whodunit more than a loving inquiry about her criminally-bent sibling.
Professor Perrigordon wheezed along at Jane's side.
“Get back into the clearer air,” Giles' shouted through his handkerchief. “We're looking for Vincent. He was near the window when the bomb went off. Spreenkerton and Pemsley never rendezvoused.”
To his surprise, Jane backed away, gently pulling the professor with her. As Giles had predicted, James' wheezing had turned to outright coughing.
A shout brought his attention back to Reginald.
A hand, covered in reddish brick-dust. An arm. A shoulder.
“Vincent!” Giles moved to help as Reginald Crothall pulled his friend from the wreckage.
“I say—” Vincent's words were cut off in a violent coughing jag. “I say that was a well placed table. Wouldn't you say?” He clutched his injured side, nodding meaningfully to the Vincent-sized holed left behind in the tumbled brick. A very solid-looking oak side-table lay half-buried there.
“Vincent!” Ms. Temble couldn't be held back any longer and she rushed forward as Giles and Reginald pulled Mr. Wexley from the rubble of his home. The woman's exuberance was catching and the gathering crowd threw up a ragged “huzzah,” as crowds tend to do.
The act seemed to break the tension and the police that Giles had wondered about did enter the scene now, harrumphing and whats-all-this-then-ing.
Giles made to flash his credentials, stopping as Vincent broke from his supporting arm, his eyes intent on yet another individual pushing his way through the crowd.
“You!” Wexley was on the man in an instant and, before anyone could stop him, Vincent Wexley had decked Mr. John Smyth.
* * *
“And that isn't even my good arm.” Vincent sullenly regarded Mr. Smyth from across the table.
The ragtag group had repaired to Perrigordon's government-sanctioned warehouse once more (much to the Professor's protestations) to lick their wounds and figure out their next move.
So far they'd had no word from Spreenkerton or Pemsley but they'd sent a Yard official to guard them until they could send one of Perrigordon's people to fetch them. (Another move that prompted protestation from James: “This operation is not at your beck and call here, Giles!”)
Smyth put an end to it, as usual, and here they were.
Smyth fixed his non-blackened eye on Vincent, “I didn't know you had a good arm, Wexley. In fact, I didn't think there was anything particularly good about you.”
Giles had to leap in between the two men. There'd been enough bloodshed today, thank you.
“Seriously?” Perrigordon had had enough. “Just knock it off, you two.”
“But he shot me!” Vincent whined.
“And you shot me!” Smyth retorted. “Figure we're even now.”
“That was ages ago. Back when we were on different sides,” Vincent reasoned. Smyth's response was near inaudible, though it sounded something like “Who's to say that?”
Professor Perrigordon cut in, “Oh, shut it. We've all been shot.”
Reginald piped up, “I haven't.”
“We could change that,” Giles growled. The remark earned him a dark look from Perrigordon.
Ms. Temble spoke up, “So my brother bombed Vincent's house.”
“It would appear so, yes,” Giles seized upon the turn in conversation, “Apparently he took exception to our foiling his bombing plot the night before.”
“Unlikely. I told you, I was running after Orrie's men to get some answers—”
“When I got shot!” Vincent sang again.
Smyth forged ahead, “And the trail went cold at the docks. Orrie skipped town. He's in the wind now. The bombing, if it was his men, was not done by Orrie himself. And besides, he never does his own dirty work. My men—”
“The men you left 'on the task' of following rumours of Orrie? The men we don't know and who work for goodness knows who?” Vincent cut through urgently.
Perrigordon squirmed in his seat, uncomfortable. “I trust him. I cannot tell you why.”
Vincent looked from the professor to Smyth, his eyes darting to their super secret surroundings. “Oh.”
“Yes, that.” Perrigordon shrugged. “Besides, we sort of have to trust him. There aren't a whole lot of options besides. After all, we're running out of places to hide until Orrie is caught and I'd prefer you not stay here forever.”
“I say we go on the offensive!”
Everyone in the room looked at Reginald's bold statement in surprise. It was, quite possibly, the most sense they'd ever had from the man.
“Now about our name. Wexley here says that we should be calling ourselves QUIP but I think—”
The moment had passed. Reginald was himself once more.